UPDATED: April 19, 2015, at 10:46 a.m
It’s Wednesday afternoon and a group of library staff members have gathered for an important vote. Carefully examining the entries, they mark down votes on a ballot which includes categories from “wittiest/punniest” and “most resembles a book,” to “most inedible.” This is Lamont Library’s first edible book contest since 2009 (though I will come to see that both the “book” and “edible” requirements are really more like loose guidelines), a celebration of the scholarly and scrumptious. Lamont’s contest is an incarnation of the Edible Book Festival, an annual competition for “bibliophiles, book artists, and food lovers around the world,” according to the website.
“Really the only rule to the contest is that it has to be book-related and made out of completely edible parts,” says Carie McGinnis, a preservation librarian from Houghton Library and one of the organizers of this year’s moveable feast. “From there, you can really take it in any direction.”
McGinnis, who has participated in edible book contests since she was in library school, emphasizes the friendly atmosphere of the bibliophile bake-off. “When you describe [the contest], it might seem a little intimidating, but then you come and see it and you’re like, ‘Oh, I could do that,’” says McGinnis.
The entries this year range from origami seaweed creations to masterful fondant manipulations to flatly inedible puns (“A Tale of Two Chilies” is eloquent in its brevity: It’s two peppers sitting on a tray). Armies of bicolored marshmallow treats clash amidst barbecue sauce “blood” and twisted Twizzler entrails (“War and Peeps”) next to a layered confection drizzled in butterscotch sauce (“Banana Kreperenina”). Nearby, all seven Potter books are recreated in visual, edible puns, from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Fruit” all the way down to the “Deathly Marshmallows.”
I soon learn that the seemingly uncomplicated competition is fraught with debate: While some entries are “more aesthetic,” says McGinnis, others are meant to be consumed by voters. And of course, there’s the question of whether to prioritize a punny title or actually attempt to resemble a book. “That is a debate you could really get into,” muses one onlooker, examining the block of bread and jam that is “Game of Scones.”
Unsurprisingly, the delightfully disgusting “War and Peeps” sweeps the competition, taking home Wittiest/Punniest and Best Interpretation of a Classic. But Best in Show is a surprise challenger, a bunny rabbit cake festooned with coconut and frosting: “The Red Velveteen Rabbit.” For disappointed baker and booklovers, there’s always next year. McGinnis has high hopes for the competition’s future.
“It’s a good way to engage the Harvard community and have a lot of fun, and we’re hoping it’s something that grows a little bit,” she says. In addition to drawing more undergrads to both the baking and voting sides—this year’s entries were about half and half from undergraduate confectioners and library chefs—McGinnis says that future competitions might include research librarians on hand to answer any library-related questions. “We want to give this a fresh infusion of blood and energy,” she says.
And of course, there are always more puns to explore. On a blackboard at one end of the room is a wish list of ideas for next year: “The Brothers Caramelov,” “The Origin of Spices,” “Goodnight Moonpie,” and my personal favorite, “Frankenslice.”